(by Dora Mugerwa) On June 14th, 2013, the Center for Technology & National Security Policy hosted a Brown Bag where Edwin A. (Skip) Vincent, Brigadier General, USAF (Ret.), Chairman of Soft Power Solutions, LLC, presented on his recent engagement experience in Burma at the National Defense University. Soft Power Solutions (SPS) is a non-profit and for-profit team dedicated to promoting strategic dialog and facilitating actions to “shape long-term positive relations and influence behavior” between relevant stakeholders that affects lasting stability and security. In terms of their visit to Burma, What were they up to (Strategy)? What did they hope to accomplish (Goals)? How were these engagements accomplished? (Actions)? What does it all mean (Value & Lessons)?
Strategy: What were they up to? SPS frames their engagements by working with local communities to define that community’s capacities in the following areas: CREW (Climate, Resources, Energy/Environment, & Water) and PRIME (Perception & Education, Religion & Ideology, Medical, Health, & Social welfare, and Economics). They want to find out if the conditions in Burma were the right formula for growth, prosperity, and stability. In this case, SMS traveled to Burma to develop Phase 0 Shaping Operations for PACOM (U.S. Pacific Command), using a whole of society approach to build partner capacity and trust between Burma and the United States. From there, they determine the needs of the selected community (Mon State) in accordance with the US military strategy.
Goals: What did they hope to accomplish? Brig Gen Vincent and Soft Power Solutions hoped to be accepted, to engage in a common agenda with a progressive community, such as Mon State, and most importantly, find “conflict resolution stakeholders” (those in the community with a real power to facilitate change) to secure substantial public-private partnerships. His team built numerous relationships with many groups such as the Myanmar government, the Governor of the Mon State & Cabinet, Myanmar Peace Centre, villages/communities, etc., and key leaders like Naing Winn, the President of Socio-Lite Foundation.
Actions: How did the SPS team accomplish these engagements? Brig Gen Vincent emphasized that it is crucial to manage the relationships before managing the issues when engaging with a community in need. SPS starts a process six months prior to arrival to prepare for the engagement. They spent time solidifying their goals, filling in information gaps, and identifying potential business partners on the ground. When in the community, (the Moulmein community in Mon State in this case), Mr. Vincent and his team spent about a week immersing themselves into the culture. Time like this is critical because one must produce outcomes, not just activity, so knowing what outcomes are required is invaluable. Once discussion began, their on the ground experiences provide them with a more holistic construct of how to address their newly formed partnerships a strategic dialogue.
Value & Lessons: What were the takeaways? Paramount to any engagement is that addressing relationships before the issues is key, and these relationships then feed into building capacity and thus positive outcomes. Relationships must include cultural understanding, patience, up-front honesty, and centered around a strategic dialog based on ground truths. Though barriers still exist, the Burmese are eager for U.S. engagement. It was recommended that the best way for NDU to engage Burma is through its educational institutions, notably their NDU equivalent. Ultimately, engagements with countries like Burma need broader agendas and systematic thinking to effectively ensure long-term stability and security within and between nations.
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